January 25, 2020

Essex Finance Board Approves $155,139 in Budget Cuts, June 7 Referendum Set on Revised Spending Plan

ESSEX— The board of finance Thursday approved $155,139 in reductions to the town budget plan for 2011-2012 as the board of selectmen set an eight-hour referendum vote on the revised spending plan for Tuesday June 7.

The finance board held a joint meeting Thursday with the board of selectmen and local board of education to develop a revised budget in the wake of May 9 town meeting rejection of a $21.59 million spending package on a 114-81 paper ballot vote. It was the first rejection of a town budget for Essex in decades.

The revised budget totals $21,441,753, including funding for town government, Essex Elementary School, and the town’s share of the Region 4 education budget that was already approved by voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a May 3 referendum. The revised budget will be presented for discussion at a town meeting set for Tuesday May 31 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the town hall. The referendum vote on the revised spending plan will be held from 12 noon to 8 p.m. on June 7.

Some of the cuts approved by the finance board are items that drew questions or objections from voters at the May 9 town meeting. The hiring of a new full-time employee for the town highway department was cancelled for a savings of $47,441 including pay and benefits. The contingency fund was reduced by $50,000, from $125,000 to $75,000. The board cut $5,000 from legal services, $3,000 in funding for a consulting planner, $10,000 from a fire department sinking fund that is set aside for future equipment purchases and $13,000 by cancelling the purchase or a printer/plotter for use by town offices.

The finance board did not accept two cuts that had been suggested by the board of selectmen after a meeting Wednesday; a $5,000 reduction for the libraries, $4,000 from Essex Library and $1,000 from the Ivoryton Library, and cancellation of a two percent pay raise for all elected officials. The original budget provided election officials, including the selectmen, town clerk, tax collector, town treasurer, and the two registrars of voters, with the same two percent pay raise that was provided to non-union town employees. The pay raise will be cancelled for the first selectman and two members of the board of selectmen, but provided to the other elected positions.

The appropriation for Essex Elementary School was reduced by $5,000, a cut in the account for electricity that was recommended by the local board of education for anticipated savings from greater energy efficiency in the renovated school building.

Despite some calls from residents at the meeting Thursday for a budget that requires no increase in the tax rate, the revised $21.41 million spending plan is still expected to require an increase of about a half-mill in the current property tax rate of 17.63 mills.

But the board of finance could approve a transfer from the town’s undesignated fund balance to defray or reduce the need for an increase in the tax rate. The undesignated fund balance currently contains about $2.3 million. Finance Board Chairman Jim Francis said the board would not consider any possible transfers from the fund balance until it convenes to set a tax rate for 2011-2012, a meeting that would occur after a budget is approved by the voters.